As described here a year ago (see LeonidSightings (18 Nov 2001)), every November certain forces beyond my control wake me up at an unholy dark hour and send me outside to lie on the hard cold ground and watch for momentary arcs of light in the skies.

Well, they struck again early on Tuesday the 19th. I rose at 0430 local time; hobbled downstairs; donned slippers, sweatshirt, cap, gloves, and windbreaker; and creaked through the front door to station myself on the neighbors' front lawn. This year the hobbling and creaking were literal events, since my left knee was still voicing its complaints about the previous Sunday's stroll in the park (see Rocky Run (17 Nov 2002)).

Streetlights and porch lights glared, looming trees obscured the majority of the heavens, and the glow of an almost-full moon painted a watercolor wash that rendered all but the brightest stars invisible. Nevertheless I saw a handful of Leonid meteors within ten minutes --- enough to convince me to go back indoors, wake my son Robin (aka RadRob), and invite him to join me in the ordeal. He was eager, particularly since an astronomy enthusiast had announced the possibility of a strong meteor storm at the prior evening's Boy Scout meeting --- it was billed as "the best opportunity for the next 90 years!"

I added a winter parka to my layered defenses, changed into better shoes, and with RadRob returned to keep our vigil at about 0500. We immediately saw a couple of meteors. They persuaded us to jump in a car and drive a mile to a meadow in a local park (where I remembered once upon a time seeing a sunbather ... not that I was paying attention, mind you ... but it was near mile 2.4 of RockCreekTrail on 1 June 2002, a hot and humid day; she was stretched out in a bikini, working hard to increase the melanin content of her well-exposed skin when I went by on a jog to the Kensington post office; half an hour later as I returned homeward she was gone ... mind you, not that I was paying attention ... but I digress) where we hoped to find fewer obstructions and no local lights. The car windows fogged badly, on both outside and inside. When we arrived at the park a couple of other early risers were already there, one smoking a cigarette. They leaned against their car, heads tipped back. As we approached them I killed our headlights to help preserve their night vision.

We pulled off the road, emerged from our vehicle, surveyed the terrain, and crossed the street where we lay down on our backs on RockCreekTrail. The seeing was good, modulo the setting moon's interference. Orion stood proud in the southwest, belt stars leading the eye down to Sirius; Jupiter dominated the south-central sky; an inverted Big Dipper hung by its handle to the north. At 0510 the International Space Station popped out of the Earth's shadow almost overhead and crept brightly toward the southeast.

RadRob and I saw several dozen fine meteors --- swift streaks, many of which left glowing wakes behind them. They matched the thumbnail description in my old Norton's Star Atlas: ""Very fast. Persistent trains." It was rather fun, lying there in the dark and exchanging profundities such as "Hey, bright one heading west --- did you see that?" ... "Nope, missed it" ... "Ooh, look at that!" ... and so forth.

After ~45 minutes of scanning the skies we declared victory and went home. I spent the remainder of the pre-dawn hour trying to thaw my frozen feet. Until next year ....

TopicPersonalHistory - TopicScience - TopicHumor - 2002-11-20

(correlates: CogDis, LeonidSightings, DogStarRising, ...)